Introduction

So you are thinking of taking the step from Vegetarianism to Veganism! It’s not as scary as people seem to think. I have been Vegan for about 6 years now and it’s only non-vegans that find it hard. They wonder how I survive and what I eat. It’s easy, just be informed and take care of yourself and let them know how you do it, because when they see just how easy it is, they stop worrying!

Over the next few issues I will be adding information that will help make the step into Veganism hopefully easier and more informative for you. I’m starting with an overview of being Vegan, what products are ok and where to buy them, etc. and reason for being vegan. I hope that you find this useful and if you have any questions please contact us.

A vegan is someone who does not consume ANY animal products. Vegetarians avoid flesh foods, vegans also reject the exploitation and abuse inherent in the making of dairy and egg products, as well as in clothing from animal sources. In the pursuit to respect the lives of animals, vegans avoid meat, milk, cheese, eggs, honey, whey, fur, leather, wool, down, and cosmetics and chemical products tested on animals.

Going Vegan

If, for any reasons, you’ve decided to try out a vegan lifestyle, probably the first thing you’re wondering is, how hard will it be? The important thing is to make changes you feel comfortable with, at your own pace. While reducing your consumption of animal products completely may be ideal, any reduction is a step in the right direction. After being vegan for a while, many people tend to find that this lifestyle is second nature, forgetting what it was like in their early days. For people just becoming aware of the issues of veganism, the path is sometimes unclear and not very easy, there are many vegan books to help make it easier and us here at VNV if you need help.

Eating

In starting the transition to a vegan diet, there are a few different strategies. Some people shift into a vegan diet slowly, starting with cutting down on things like cheese and milk. Others simply take out the animal products from their diet altogether. It is a totally personal, individual transition, just take it at your own pace. Many people believe that eliminating all animal products will greatly narrow their menus. However, according to virtually any vegan that you ask, quite the opposite happens. Once you start frequenting your local health / natural food stores and co-ops, and start reading vegan literature and cookbooks, you will soon become familiar with the wide variety of options that were missing from your previous diet. You will also discover that it is possible to follow almost any recipe and simply substitute animal ingredients for Vegan ones, it just takes time and practice.

For those who prefer not to cook, there’s plenty of packaged foods to choose from! And luckily, more and more supermarkets are starting to carry the same products found in the health food stores.

There is no shortage of vegan foods to help make the transition an easy one. For more information on Vegan Food please contact us if you need to.

Supermarkets

Most supermarkets carry veggie burgers and vegan hotdogs. Soy, rice, and nut milks are available at most grocery stores, and work in most recipes calling for cow’s milk. There are products such as “Egglike” which can replace eggs in recipes or you can use things like Tapioca Starch. Experiment to see which best suits you. Soy margarines (that don’t contain the dairy products) and soy yogurts are also available at most stores. Probably the thing that has had the most trouble pleasing vegans is soy cheese. A few brands are available (but to my knowledge “Soy King” is the only completely vegan one as most of the others seem to have casein in them), but don’t expect it to taste exactly like your favourite cheese. Also you may want to try out some of the recipes from The Uncheese Cookbook.

There are now several brands of soy and rice frozen desserts. Most supermarkets carry at least one brand.

Eating Out

There are vegan options at many restaurants, including Italian, Mexican, Indian, Thai, Chinese, Middle Eastern, and Ethiopian. If you’re on a fast food schedule, pizza places and most sandwich shops can offer vegan options. Of course your safest bet is to go to vegetarian and vegan restaurants.

Clothing

There are many alternatives to leather, wool and down. Many of these are available at your local shopping centres. Many jumpers these days are synthetic and you can even buy synthetic “wool” for knitting, which my Mum uses and has made many baby clothes for our friends (both vegans and non-vegans) out of and it is just fabulous and wears and washes up very well.

For Vegan shoes there is Vegan Wares in Collingwood where they even have vegan Docs! You can also find non-leather shoes in shops such as Spend-less, K-Mart and many more shops than you would expect. Ask for a non-leather shoe, even if the shop does not stock it, if enough people ask they may start stocking an alternative to leather. Remember it can’t hurt to ask!

Acrylic and ‘polar fleece’ are popular alternatives to wool, available at many clothing stores. Sleeping bags and coats stuffed with Thinsulate, Polyfil, and other synthetic insulation are often warmer than those stuffed with goose-down. In addition, synthetic insulation retains its properties when wet. Most outdoor stores carry many options.

Animals, The Environment & Health

These are the main reasons people become Vegetarians and Vegans:

Animals – Despite the common belief that drinking milk or eating eggs does not kill animals, commercially raised dairy cows and egg-laying chickens, whether factory-farmed or ‘free range,’ are slaughtered when their production rates decline, not to mention the appalling conditions to which they are kept.

The Environment – Animal agriculture takes a devastating toll on the earth. It is an inefficient way of producing food, since feed for farm animals requires land, water, fertilizer, and other resources that could otherwise have been used directly for producing human food.

Health – The consumption of animal fats and proteins has been linked to heart disease, colon and lung cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes, kidney disease, hypertension, obesity, and a number of other debilitating conditions. Cows’ milk contains ideal amounts of fat and protein for young calves, but far too much for humans. According to Gill Langley, a Ph.D. in biology and author of Vegan Nutrition, “it is clear from the example of many thousands of vegans worldwide that a varied plant-based diet not only supports health and well-being but, additionally, can have positive health benefits” (Langley 1995). A vegan diet is protective against such major killers as heart disease and cancer.

Increasingly, modern research is showing links between the consumption of animal products and conditions such as diabetes and asthma (Langley 1995). A vegan diet is also an excellent way of maintaining a healthy weight. Because most (though not all) vegan foods are less dense in calories than animal-based foods, it is possible to eat them until you feel full without consuming more calories than your body needs.

Surviving

When a new vegan tries to share their newfound information, they are often surprised that their family and friends not only show resistance to the idea, but often react with ridicule or anger. Combine this with the fact that ethical vegans view meat-eaters as supporting cruelty, and vegans can easily develop a near-hatred of meat-eaters. In fact, it can almost seem like it is a vegan’s duty to avoid meat-eaters and boycott any event having meat as a protest.

However, in order to change the world for the animals, we must let the empathy and compassion we feel for animals shine through the pain and anger we feel about their exploitation. The main difficulty in staying friendly and respectful is our expectations – we expect that people will react the same way we do. We need to understand others and give them time to deal with their unique situations, rather than burning bridges, creating enemies, and feeding the stereotype of vegans as being hostile extremists. We also have to respect others choices even if we can’t understand them.

Be informed about Veganism and the reasons involved with this choice but remember that you do not have to be encyclopaedias of facts. The simplest reason for being vegan can be the most powerful: “I know that I don’t want to suffer, and for this reason, I don’t want to cause suffering to others or animals.”

It will get easier over time and the opposition you encounter will lessen, especially once you are whipping up gourmet meals or taking people to places like Shakahari’s and they can see for themselves that being vegan is not an inferior lifestyle.

Always remember that we are here to help for any information you may need.

Living Without Dairy

Dairy seems to be the hardest obstacle into Veganism for most people. As I mentioned in the last newsletter, you will either gradually cut it out or will just do it right away, always do what you feel comfortable with and at your own pace. We’ll imagine that you are now at the stage where you have just put your last carton of cow’s milk into the recycling and the yoghurt and cheese are all gone and you are now attempting the vegan lifestyle. This means that you will no longer be purchasing dairy – so what do you do now?? Just don’t panic! It’s ok!!!!! Once you’ve left dairy behind your body will thank you!

In our last issue we told you some great places to shop and hopefully you’ve had a chance to check them out. You will now be buying things like: soy milk, almond milk, rice milk, soy yoghurt, soy cream cheese, soy cheese, etc… The list goes on! Vitasoy Calci Plus –is one of my absolute fave Soy Milk! Not only does it taste great (no funny after taste) it’s got extra calcium included in it! For margarines you can’t go past Nuttelex and for Soy Yoghurts we’ve found that the Cole Brand is the nicest! It is the closest to dairy yoghurt and does not have a chalky after taste like so many other soy yoghurts do. Cheeses are the hardest to get, Soy King is the only one we are able to buy here (that we can find) that is totally vegan! It does not melt very well and the taste can be a little “cardboardy” but you do get used to it. It’s good mixed in a sandwich with other ingredients or heated in the microwave with veg dogs & then put in a roll! It’s the best we’ve found as yet! It’s a different story with Vegan cream cheeses, these are excellent. Between Soy King and Tofutti there is a wide selection and they are very tasty! Soy King also do a range of very tasty Vegan Mayonnaises. Tofutti makes an excellent Vegan Sour Cream, great for Nachos for example! So really you don’t miss out being a Vegan!!!

There are so many choices here and even more overseas that we have not been introduced to yet. They all taste just as good (and from what I remember, some taste better) as dairy and the bonus being that they are all healthier for you.

So many cafes & restaurants these days supply alternatives to dairy, however if you are somewhere that does not, simply ask if you can bring your own milk for a coffee. You might even say that you only use soy/rice, etc. and tell them that you will have to find another café that will cater for you. You’ll find that most times these places will then start to put alternatives on the menu. Changes won’t be made unless we ask for it!

Same goes with your supermarkets for vegan foods, ask, ask, ask!!!!!! You’ll find that these places like to please the consumer’s requests! And a lot of places will surprise you too, I found vegan jelly and vegan cream cheese in Safeway at Kew today! Very impressed!

Healthier Eating

The advertising blurb surrounding cow’s milk would make anyone think it is an absolutely essential and natural product for humans. Most people when thinking of increasing their calcium intake would immediately reach for a carton of milk or slab of cheese. However, there are several reasons for not using these products as a nutrient source. Whole cow’s milk is suited to the nutritional needs of calves who double their weight in 47 days and grow to 300 pounds within a year. In fact, human beings are the only species to drink the milk of another species, and the only species to drink milk beyond infancy.

According to the Vegetarian Voice Website, “90% of the world’s adult population is deficient in the enzyme needed to digest milk properly. The enzyme lactase is present in infants for digesting their mother’s milk, but levels decline after the age of five years. Adults who lack the enzyme suffer from bloating, cramping, wind and diarrhoea if they drink milk. Also allergy to cow’s milk may affect 75 in 1000 babies, causing frequent diarrhoea, repeated vomiting, persistent colic, eczema, bronchitis and asthma.” These are good enough reasons to give up dairy without even mentioning the ethical reasons too!

The most significant connection between milk and ill health is probably through its contribution to heart disease. Too much saturated fat in the diet can lead to atherosclerosis, where the arteries ‘fur up’ with cholesterol deposits and cannot deliver enough blood to the vital organs. The heart is particularly susceptible. Milk and other dairy products account for about half of all saturated fats eaten in America. Meat accounts for the rest. The UK has the highest level of heart disease in the world but at the rate Australians are consuming dairy, we won’t be far behind! Child-care expert Dr Benjamin Spock, once an advocate of drinking cow’s milk, has joined several doctors questioning its nutritional value and warning of a possible link to juvenile onset diabetes and allergies. “Breast-feeding is the best milk feeding for babies,” says Dr Spock. Dr Spock is backed up by Dr Frank Oski, director of paediatrics at John Hopkins University and Dr Neal Barnard, president of the 2000-member Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine. Dr Oski states that cow’s milk is overrated as a source of calcium, is often contaminated with traces of antibiotics, can cause allergies and digestive problems and has been linked to juvenile diabetes.

The calcium intake of vegans tends to be slightly below the recommended optimal amounts but the body does adapt to lower intakes and there have been no reports of calcium deficiency in vegans. The fact that vegans have slightly lower protein intake and exclude meat from their diet encourages their bodies to retain calcium so their dietary need may be lower than the typical omnivore. Studies of the bones of vegans suggest that the likelihood of osteoporosis is no greater than for omnivores.

Vegan Sources of good calcium include tofu (if prepared using calcium sulphate contains more than four times the calcium of whole cow’s milk), green leafy vegetables, seeds and nuts. The calcium in green vegetables which are not high in oxalate e.g. kale, is absorbed as well or better than the calcium from cow’s milk. Some soya milks e.g. Vitasoy, Nature’s Soy, Australia’s Own, are fortified with calcium. Other calcium rich foods include black molasses, edible seaweeds, watercress, parsley and dried figs.

Amounts of various foods that provide 100mg calcium:

  • Almonds – 42g 
  • Brazil nuts – 59g 
  • Soya flour – 44g 
  • Oatmeal – 192g 
  • Wholemeal bread – 185g 
  • Black molasses – 20g 
  • Dried figs – 40g 
  • Parsley – 50g

Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is the major cause of bone fractures in the elderly. This disease affects one in four British women. It is better prevented than treated and prevention includes an adequate intake of calcium throughout life, but especially in childhood and young adulthood; and minimising major risk factors e.g. smoking, heavy alcohol use and lack of physical exercise. Diets high in protein and in salt (sodium chloride) also increase calcium loss from the body and may have an effect on osteoporosis. Post-menopausal women are more prone to osteoporosis because they produce less oestrogen, which protects the skeleton in younger women. There has been much publicity about the role of dietary calcium in preventing osteoporosis but the fact remains that it is more common in Westernised countries where calcium intakes and consumption of dairy products are high compared to the rest of the world.

Osteoporosis is comparatively rare in rural subsistence cultures, even though calcium intakes are much lower. Lifestyle factors, such as physical activity, lower protein intakes, little alcohol consumption and the rarity of smoking, may offer protection to people in these populations.

Further Details

For more details on calcium and the vegan diet in general see Vegan Nutrition by Gill Langley. This book is the most comprehensive survey of scientific research on vegan diets. It is ideal for vegans, would-be vegans and health care professionals. It includes highlighted key points, easy-to-follow tables and chapter summaries.

 

References

(1) Breslau, N.A., Brinkley, L., Hill, K.D. & Pak, C.Y.C. (1988). Relationship of animal-protein rich diet to kidney stone formation and calcium metabolism. J Clin. End. 66:140-146

(2) Linkswiler, H.M., Zemel, M.B., Hegsted, M. & Schuette, S. (1981). Protein-induced hypercalcuria. Fed. Proc. 40:880-883

(3) Dr Spock sours on cow milk for babies, Toronto Star 30/09/92

(4) Langley, G. (1995) Vegan Nutrition

(5) The Vegetarian Voice Website